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Executive Director Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
At a personal level, how did that transition from architecture to textiles / fashion happen. Would be thankful if you could elaborate?
When I joined Gap Inc, I was working in store design within a brand. I had always had an interest and focus on sustainable design and began working with the team on how we could incorporate sustainable design practices across the entire fleet of stores that were being built and remodelled each year. I designed and managed the company's first LEED certified store, and we leveraged many of the learnings from that store to deploy into our store standards.
I wanted to engage on the organisation's overall sustainability efforts and took a role within their Global Sustainability department, working on environmental initiatives for their owned and operated facilities globally, as well as within their supply chain. This is where I was introduced to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Higg Index.
As a founding member of the SAC, Gap Inc was involved in helping to develop and deploy the very first version of the Higg Index at scale to a small set of strategic partners. We were also involved in piloting and testing all the tools developed from the Brand Module to the Design & Development Module, which I led. In addition, I led the creation and development of environmental strategy and global environmental goals. Throughout my ten-year journey at Gap Inc, I transitioned away from architecture and sustainable store design to working on sustainable business practices at a global, organisational level. This combined with my early and heavy engagement with the SAC as a founding member helped as I transitioned from Gap Inc to the SAC.
As VP for Membership, you had been instrumental in expanding the membership base. How are you planning to expand still? Do you have numbers in mind?
Every business that prioritises sustainability should be using the Higg Index-it offers the most mature and most adopted solution for the apparel industry. Our goal is to continue to scale our work globally so that the industry can lead the changes that will address the climate crisis and make a lasting difference.
Higg Co has been hived off from the SAC. What was the need to do that? How is it going to work in the future (between SAC and Higg Co)?
While we are separate entities, the SAC and Higg Co still work together towards a shared vision. We made the decision to spin out Higg Co in order to shift the speed and efficiency with which the tools were being developed. SAC members continue to collaborate to develop the content featured in the tools, and Higg Co implements the technology online. Higg Co also offers new personalised solutions for SAC members seeking to integrate the technology in their company systems.
No surprise to anyone who has worked on a large-scale solution for measuring impacts, but it's not easy to scale the work we are doing as an industry organisation. The SAC spun out Higg Index technology development into a new company, Higg Co, in order to more efficiently scale the Higg Index globally and achieve the transformational change we seek in our industry. The spinout enables the funding and development of robust technology that serves the thousands of global Higg Index customers, and allows the SAC to focus on facilitating industry collaboration and increasing member engagement. By spinning out we can move toward speed and efficiency, and dedicate resources to building a technology platform that can serve the industry well.
You had yourself implemented the Higg Index at Gap. How easy / difficult was it to do that? Could you share your personal experience / endeavours?
The Higg Index was in its first version when I started implementing the tool, and it took some time to do so successfully-it was a process. In order to be successful, there are several factors that are important.
First, it's important to have senior level buy in. Rolling out tools that can inform strategic business decisionmaking requires that senior leadership understand the value of the tools and how they can help to inform your business strategy. Second, it's important that internal teams, especially those whose help you need, are on board and aligned with the project. When engaging and involving sourcing and design teams, it's important to know what their priorities are and how this work aligns with their goals, so shared objectives can be discussed and measured. Finally, communication about the project, it's progress, and the results is critical. Communicating with all the stakeholders involved-from leadership to internal teams to supply chain partners-about why the company is doing this and what it hopes to achieve as well as the benefits and opportunities for everyone is important. How does implementing the Higg Index align with shared objectives across teams? What are the outcomes that will ultimately make this work successful to all parties involved? It's important to articulate this.
I learnt this over several years of rolling out the tools with various stakeholders. It wasn't always easy, but I do think that as a Coalition, we've learned so much from all of our members about how to do this work. Many best practices can be leveraged to ensure this work can be integrated and successful from the start.
Being part of the Coalition allows companies to network with other companies that are like them and those that aren't to hear what works, what doesn't, and how we can all learn from each other to continuously improve how we accomplish this work.
This interview was first published in the November 2019 edition of the print magazine.
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